We’ve talked a lot about smart cities here on the NoiseNet blog. We think they’re an incredibly useful way of thinking about our near future and a very useful goal framework for governments to work towards. But there are some thinkers in the smart city space who have been looking even further ahead and wondering: what comes next, after a city has become smart? A new model is emerging out of Europe, known as “connected territories”. Let’s take a look at what that means, and how it might look once fully realised.
A Smart City Refresh
First, let’s take a quick moment to refresh ourselves on what smart cities are. A city becomes “smart” by adopting and incorporating modern technologies and initiatives into their everyday processes. Usually this is done for the purpose of making the city more environmentally friendly or healthy for people to live in (a.k.a. “liveable”), but some smart city initiatives are also just convenient. NoiseNet is one example of a smart city technology that helps keep noise pollution at bay in urban areas. Other examples might include adaptive traffic control networks that prioritise air quality; automatic watering of public greenery in response to soil moisture sensors; sensors on bins that let city workers know when they’re ready to empty; street lighting that automatically turns off when it’s not needed; or free public wifi networks and charging stations. Many of these are backed up by analytical algorithms that track useful data about how they’re used in order to inform decision-makers about best practices. These are just a few of the simplest forms of smart city technology operating today, and the industry is constantly innovating towards greener and more resident-friendly spaces.
The Expansion of Smart Cities
As smart city technologies become more widely adopted by governments around the world, some problems begin to arise. Two adjacent cities, separated only by the lines on the map, might be using two different providers to solve the same issue. One city might have an entrenched technology that residents are familiar with, but then its neighbour gets the latest and greatest version that could draw a lot of new residents. Once state-level funding, smart city development initiatives, or analytics become involved, some of these things can become messy. Service providers can become offended and pull their product. Funding might dry up, leaving services half-implemented. Some cross-government workers might become confused by differing requirements, or need to upskill to keep up with projects. Citizens may dislike certain kinds of smart city technologies, or become frustrated when a quality service is discontinued. A lack of cooperation between smart service providers can lead to increased costs, as well as missed opportunities and data. At the end of all this, a city’s residents will be left in a less livable city.
The Connected Territory Ideal
In 2015, an initiative was founded in Europe called Open & Agile Smart Cities (OASC). They identified a “chicken and egg” problem with smart city innovation: “no system can scale and spread because there are no standards, and there are no standards because there is no widespread deployment.” The ways that smart technologies define, categorise, and store the information they gather can differ wildly between providers, and is one of the biggest barriers to cross-city cooperation. OASC aims to change that by establishing a set of standards that all smart technologies adopted by their network must conform to, known as the Minimal Interoperability Mechanisms (MIMs). These standards define all the ways in which smart tech service providers must consider interoperability, ethics, personal data management, privacy, security, and transparency when developing their services. With these MIM guidelines, smart tech developers can ensure that they’re operating in a fair and competitive market, state and federal governments know that their cities and territories will be connected through clear data, and residents can enjoy the smart city benefits no matter where in the region they live. That is the connected territory ideal.
Smart cities are still growing, adapting, and maturing into what we envision to be a better, greener future for all. But that doesn’t have to be the end. We can always improve our offerings, and thereby the lives of those around us, by ensuring that we uphold our smart cities to the highest standards of ethics and interoperability. If you’re interested in reading more about OASC and their MIMs, click here. If you’re looking to monitor and reduce noise pollution in your local area through innovative smart technology, that’s what NoiseNet does. You can head over to https://www.noisenet.com/ to learn more.